The extent to which pathological conditions of the equine GI tract represent an array of viable disease conditions facing the horse does not, in and of itself, reflect the need for action. Truth be told, for many equestrians pursuing specific goals with their horses, the importance of any issue must be assessed by balancing the burden of addressing it against the risk and consequences of doing nothing. But GI health conditions do negatively affect everyone involved: the owner, the horse and the veterinarian.
To The Horse
Overall health implications of GI tract wellness are perhaps most significant for the horse and this, in turn, elevates the importance of gut health for the owner. Common pathological conditions of the GI tract, even if apparently minor at first blush, may reflect a more significant underlying condition, either at present or in the near future.
Colic is the health condition of the equine gut that certainly commands the most attention, although it is not a disease condition per se. The risk of death from colic, combined with the seemingly unpredictable nature of its appearance, puts both vets and their clients on notice. Ulcers, too, are not a disease, but are a common and disruptive condition of the equine digestive system that can cause horses discomfort, or worse.
To The Owner
Of course, digestive health issues are not without costs for the horse’s owner and/or its trainer. This includes direct costs in the form of medical-related expenses, and indirect ones, by way of lost earnings or loss of productivity or performance. Poor GI health has long been associated with poor performance. This may manifest in a lack of consistent, progressive training, as well as in poor results in competition. For the typical recreational competitor, this may amount to fewer ribbons or fewer bragging rights in the barn. But for professionals or otherwise serious competitors, a reduction or loss of training and performance productivity can impact their livelihood.
A healthy digestive tract for the horse benefits the owner in other ways, including a healthy coat, overall appearance and condition, and the attitude and behavior of the animal. While these issues may, on the surface, appear to be secondary in importance, they also may affect the horse’s willingness and ability to perform or impact the horse’s presentation in the show setting.
To The Veterinarian
Digestive health has implications for you as well. Colic is notorious for always seeming to arise in the middle of the night. And when colic episodes turn serious, and a referral is in order, or especially when death results, you may find it difficult to collect on the bill. Even something as ubiquitous as gastric ulcers can affect you. First, the only FDA-approved treatment is typically effective but generally expensive for many clients. This leaves you with second-tier treatment options with less successful outcomes. Further, the potential for recurrence of ulcers or other gut conditions is high, especially when the underlying conditions that give rise to the disease state are still in place. This can affect the vet/client relationship which, in turn, can eventually impact your very reputation.
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